Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SPOTLIGHT on ETHICS: Supermarket Meat

Supermarket Meat. Is it halal?
Is the meat — chicken, turkey, beef or lamb — found in your supermarket up to Islamic standards of halal?

This article discusses Islamic concerns of animal welfare, jallalah and the potential for contamination with haram substances, when considering supermarket-bought meat as halal or not. Zabiha (Islamic slaughter) is outside of the scope of this article.

Overview of Meats Found in Supermarkets

Factory Farmed Meat
If you've ever bought meat from your local supermarket, chances are it was raised in dense confinement with many other animals in the environment of a large-scale agrobusiness, known as Factory Farming. In fact, according to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.[1] Factory farmed animals are reported to suffer a variety of health and emotional problems.

Organic Meat
Organic meat is meat from animals that have been raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Unlike most supermarket meat, organically raised chickens, cows, sheep and swine (yes, there are even organic pigs!) are given freedom of movement and allowed to roam freely in wide fields. Although preferable over standard supermarket meat, organic meat is not automatically halal.[2]

Butchering, Packaging of Supermarket Meats

If you buy chicken, beef or lamb at the supermarket, you should know where it was before it was packaged in plastic. Here are some important questions Muslim shoppers should ask their supermarket meat department, and the reasons why.

Question: Is the meat packaged at the store, or at the farm?
Most name-brand meat products specialize in one type of meat. One type of animal. Turkey farmers don't raise cows, for example. When a chicken company sells its product to supermarkets all over the country, then the equipment it uses to produce and package that chicken will be in demand 24/7, processing ONLY chicken.

If your meat is the store brand, butchered on your food store's butcher's table, then you have another question to ask to know if that chicken, beef or lamb is clean.

Question: How many butchering tables does the store's butcher have?
Many of today's supermarkets are equipt with two to three butcher tables. Typically, there is one dedicated to pork, and one to beef. Other meats such as rabbit, lamb or chicken can be cut on either, depending on store policy.

Organic stores tend to have a relatively small butcher shop, but typically offer their high-end consumers a wide range of meats, from buffalo to beef, pork, wild boar, ostrich, pheasant and chicken. Because of the low volume, and high variety of meats organic butchers typically offer, the butcher shops in organic and whole foods stores tend to have one butcher table for cutting and trimming these meats.

Bottom Line: You should ask the meat department of your supermarket or whole foods store what their butchering policies are.

Question: Does the butcher shop meat grinder grind both pork and beef?
Some supermarkets that we're familiar with purchase all of their ground pork, lamb, turkey and chicken pre-ground from their suppliers, but grind beef in-house. These suppliers, especially poultry processors, typically specialize in processing meats from one type of animal.

Bottom line: Ask which of the meats are ground using supermarket meat grinders, and if they have more than one machine to grind each type of meat.

Recommended Topics:
Jallalah of halal animals
Factory Farming
Zabiha, Islamic slaughter
Organic Meats

[1] State of the World 2006. Special Focus: China & India. "Chapter 2: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry." Danielle Nierenberg. Worldwatch Institute, p. 26. Online Summary found at: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3993
[2] SPOTLIGHT on ETHICS: Organic Meat
[3] "Best Practices for Beef Slaughter," 2003. Edited by: National Meat Association, Southwest Meat Association, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. http://haccpalliance.org/sub/food-safety/BestPracslaught1103.pdf [PDF]

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